Art & Technology #3: Olafur Eliasson

Mother Nature, Reproduced
Olafur Eliasson: Master of Light and Climate

The world renowned artist Olafur Eliasson is able to reproduce nature within exhibition spaces, controlling humidity and light in order to conjure fog, mist and other elements found in the world. His innovative works are grounded not only on a perceptive psychology of the natural world, but also in science.

“Science is my source of inspiration. It is a very simple, traditional source of inspiration,” says the artist, who, in 2003 presented The Weather Project at the Tate Modern in London. The work, installed in the Turbine Hall as part of the Unilever series, saw the artist create a fine mist inside the large, open-air space and install hundreds of yellow lamps to create a single, circular form. The ceiling of the hall was covered in reflective aluminum, reproducing what may be expressed as a saturated sunset of the midnight sun in Northern Europe. It was a breathtaking imitation of a natural phenomenon.

The composite sun hung, slightly slanted, radiating its monochromatic glow to the visitors below. Some stood still, gazing upward, while others laid down to soak in the shimmer from the familiar reflection in the ceiling.

The Weather Project was shown in London in 2003, and then again at the Eliasson’s traveling exhibition Take Your Time in 2008 at MoMA P.S.1. Even as the artist’s enshrining of nature in science drew the attention of the media and the public, he emphasized that while his ideas appear dematerialized and objectless, his intentions lie in exposing the visitors to phenomenological philosophy. He has stated that his ongoing interests are in visitor involvement and the temporality of art.

Born of Technology

  • While a student at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Eliasson once went backpacking around Iceland, “the land of fire and ice.” The artist was captivated by the grand panoramas of the north, the active volcanoes, glaciers, geysers and snowstorms. It was there that he discovered the recurring motifs for his work. Eliasson’s art at times seems to be in homage to Aristotle’s four classical elements of earth, water, air and fire. His work is oriented on the elements of nature and the environments in which they manifest. Water, moss and ice are materials frequently found in his installations. Eliasson quickly developed an interest in phenomena experienced within the physical realm that moves into the metaphysical.

    Many of his earlier works were an extension of his interest in the compositional elements of nature. One of his most notable was Beauty (1993), a hose punctured with small holes, spraying a curtain of fine mist from a darkened ceiling. A spotlight, shining through at an oblique angle, created a serene rainbow. For the visitors passing through the iridescent curtain, it was a tactile experience, the glimmering rainbow across the cool, moist air reminiscent of the northern lights before it vanished an instant later.

  • The early work Moss Wall (1994) was comprised of moss woven across wire mesh. As the moss was watered, its shape and color changed in the fashion of an abstract painting. Your Strange Certainty Still Kept (1996) dripped water from another perforated hose, similarly mounted from a dark ceiling. In this work, however, the presence of strobe lights made each illuminated moment of falling droplets appear to be frozen in time.

    Eliasson uses scientific principles and tools to amplify or create surrealistic iterations of nature. Green River was first carried out in 1998 in Bremen, Germany, then in five other locations including Los Angeles (1999), Stockholm (2000) and Tokyo (2001). Uranine, a water-soluble dye, was poured into rivers in urban and rural settings, turning the rivers green. Carried along by the currents, the dye radically changed the appearance of the rivers and their surroundings. Reception varied in extremes depending on the location, and was accompanied by extraordinary public debate. Double Sunset (1999) featured a yellow corrugated metal disc, erected on scaffolding on top of an industrial building in Utrecht in the Netherlands. Monochromatic floodlights lit up the disc at dust, creating an eerie, decadent illusion of a second sunset alongside the actual image. The New York City Waterfalls (2008) was a large -scale, temporary installation featuring the four namesake located in the East River. An at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville in Paris, Lava Floor (2002) invited visitors to walk over several tons of igneous Icelandic rock, with the lava sludge laid out on the floor. The smoke rising from the surface recreated the unusual sensation of traversing an actual volcanic area.

Traversing Boundaries

Through a combination of special effects and subtle manipulation, Eliasson achieves a level of scale in his work that truly echoes nature. He often uses optics, employing prisms, lenses and geometrical axes to evoke the finer senses of the human retina. In his work I Only See Things When They Move (2004), the combination of a rotating color filter encircling a lamp and the refractive effect of a glass prism created the appearance of vibrant colored bands on the gallery’s walls. With this piece, Eliasson was able to enter a new realm that oscillated between art and science.

Your House (2006) is a book and an art piece depicting Eliasson’s own home in Hellerup, Denmark. The internal space of his house was recreated in 1:85 scale, sliced thinly as if by an MRI using tomography. The detail in each section, cut into the pages of a 454-page book that measured a mere 27.3cm by 43cm was astounding. A total of 225 books were created, of which 140 are held at MoMA, a supporter of the project.

In 2012, together with Frederik Ottesen, Eliasson invented a solar LED lamp called the “Little Sun,” which can be used in parts of the world at time impenetrable by sunlight. Displayed first at the Tate Modern, the “Little Sun” debuted as part of the London 2012 Festival—it has since been introduced across the globe. At his solo show in Denmark’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in 2014, Eliasson filled an entire gallery with stones, recreating a rocky riverbed.

Eliasson will open Contact at the Fondation Louis Vuitton through mid-February. The artist’s first solo show in France since 2002, the installation will bring visitors into a pitch-black space only partially broken by small fixtures of light. The experience will be of one exploring the structure of the universe with your senses.

Contact “addresses that which lies at the fringe of our senses and knowledge, of our imagination and expectations. It is about the horizon that divides, for each of us, the known from the unknown,” says the artist. Through an accurate understanding of science and technology, he has gained from nature the principles of form: repetition, harmony and unity. ■ with ARTINPOST

  • <Film stills of Your embodied garden>

    2013 Produced by Studio Olafur Eliasson, Berlin; and Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou ⓒ Olafur Eliasson

  • Installation view of <Weather Project>

    Tate Modern's Turbine Hall 2003

  • Installation view of <Colour Spectrum Kaleidoscope>

    at P.S.1 in 2008 Color effect filter, stainless steel 75×75×200cm David Teiger Courtesy of MoMA P.S.1 ⓒ 2008 Olafur Eliasson Photo: Matthew Septimus

  • Installation view of <Model room>

    2003 Photography Courtesy of Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humleaekk ⓒ Anders Sune Berg

  • Installation view of <Riverbed>

    2014 Photography ⓒ Anders Sune Berg Courtesy of Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek

  • <Lava Kaleidoscope(detail)>

    2012 Aluminum, Stainless steel, mirror, colored glass(yellow), volcanic rocks 211×88.5×220cm Courtesy the artist and PKM Trinity Gallery
  • <Contact>

    2014 Photo: Iwan Baan

  • <Double infinity(detail)>

    2014 ⓒ Olafur Eliasson Photo: Iwan Baan

  • <Map for unthought thoughts>

    2014 ⓒ Olafur Eliasson Photo: Iwan Baan

  • <The Little Sun>

    2012 Solar-powered lamp ⓒ Olafur Eliasson

  • <Face Surveyor>

    2012 Stainless steel, mirror, colored glass(yellow), colored filter glass(magenta), mirror 94.4×96.2×20.1cm Courtesy the artist and PKM Trinity Galley ⓒ 2012 Olafur Eliasson

About the Artist

Olafur Eliasson is a Danish artist born in Copenhagen in 1967. He lives in Copenhangen and Berlin, and represented Denmark at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003 before installing The Weather Project at the Tate Modern. Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson traveled from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2007 to 2010, making stops for site-specific installations along the way, including one at MoMA P.S.1. Eliasson has engaged in a number of projects in public spaces, including the intervention Green River, carried out in various cities between 1998 and 2001; the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2007 in London, a temporary pavilion designed with the Norwegian architect Kjetil Thorsen; and The New York City Waterfalls in 2008, installed along the Brooklyn waterfront. In 2013, Eliasson was recognized by the 2013 Mies van der Rohe Award, European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture.

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